REVIEW: THE BEST OF US, BY JOYCE MAYNARD

 

In 2011, when she was in her late fifties, beloved author and journalist Joyce Maynard met the first true partner she had ever known. Jim wore a rakish hat over a good head of hair; he asked real questions and gave real answers; he loved to see Joyce shine, both in and out of the spotlight; and he didn’t mind the mess she made in the kitchen. He was not the husband Joyce imagined, but he quickly became the partner she had always dreamed of.

Before they met, both had believed they were done with marriage, and even after they married, Joyce resolved that no one could alter her course of determined independence. Then, just after their one-year wedding anniversary, her new husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. During the nineteen months that followed, as they battled his illness together, she discovered for the first time what it really meant to be a couple–to be a true partner and to have one.

My Thoughts: I am a big fan of the author, and have read a couple of her memoirs already, so I was happy for the opportunity to travel with her and her husband on this journey.

I could relate to being single a long time after a previous marriage, and how sharing one’s life with a partner, even someone you truly love, would have its adjustments.

Imagine, then, that once the two of them had found compromises and wonderful ways to be together, how truly devastating such a diagnosis would be. I admired the way they made a full time job out of searching for treatments, and how this new journey in their partnership would open up new ways to be together. Their “new normal” was not what they had wished for, but it was what they had. And they were together, working toward a common goal.

One thing I’ve learned about Joyce Maynard’s writing: she speaks her truth, even if it does not always put her in a flattering light. She tells of her flaws and foibles, her missteps, and even the negative feelings she might have about her situation. Who wouldn’t want a less challenging road to travel? But it was their road together, so it would be the path she treasured.

As death drew close, the author writes: “I was a different person than the woman I’d been eighteen months earlier. Grief and pain had been harsh, but they had served as teachers. We had been through a conflagration, the two of us, and I would have given anything to have avoided it, but we’d emerged like two blackened vessels from the forge.” The ordeal “had turned us into two people we might never have become if the disease had spared Jim. Better ones, though only one of us would survive this.”

As I reached the final page of The Best of Us, tears flowed as I took in the beauty of a love discovered later in life, a love that lasted just a few years, but turned out to be a forever love. 5 stars.
***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: EVERY LAST LIE, BY MARY KUBICA

Description: Clara Solberg’s world shatters when her husband and their four-year-old daughter are in a car crash, killing Nick while Maisie is remarkably unharmed. The crash is ruled an accident…until the coming days, when Maisie starts having night terrors that make Clara question what really happened on that fateful afternoon.

Tormented by grief and her obsession that Nick’s death was far more than just an accident, Clara is plunged into a desperate hunt for the truth. Who would have wanted Nick dead? And, more important, why? Clara will stop at nothing to find out—and the truth is only the beginning of this twisted tale of secrets and deceit.

My Thoughts: Alternately narrated by Clara in the present and Nick “before,” Every Last Lie carries the reader on a fast-paced ride. Back and forth between the red herrings and the truth that seems well hidden, lurking beneath another sea of lies, I could not stop reading.

Why does Maisie have nightmares about a black car chasing them? Who is the “bad man” she sees in her dreams? Who keeps showing up in Clara’s back yard, leaving muddy footprints?

There are several seemingly threatening characters that might be perpetrators: the neighbor, Theo, who is aggressive and leaves bruises on his wife, and who has been in a shouting match with Nick. Then there is Connor, his once best friend and former partner, who shows up in the middle of the night to hit on Clara, and who had also been in a loud argument with Nick days before his death.

Surprisingly, there are some unexpected possibilities that show up at the last moment. And every time you turn around, another secret and lie is unveiled.

The strangeness of Nick’s story leads us through events until that fateful moment, and we think we have the answers…until a video shows up, revealing exactly what happened. But could it be true? Or is there more to the story?

I was shaken to the core by all the twists and turns, not wanting to miss a single sentence, just in case the final reveal would be hidden there, ready to jump out at me. A stunning read! 5 stars.***My e-ARC came to me from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU, BY JONATHAN TROPPER

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When Mort, the patriarch of the Foxman family dies, the four grown children, Wendy, Paul, Judd, and Phillip, gather around, supporting their mother, Hillary, and sitting shiva.

This will be the first time the four of them have congregated in years, and with them comes the baggage of childhood animosities, failed relationships, and the angst of knowing that they all could have done more to maintain contact with one another.

As they gather, however, we see them in their grief, interacting with the visitors and with one another. And intermittently, the first person narrator, Judd, takes us back to those moments in the past when they were at their best…and at their worst.

In the more recent past, Judd bemoans the loss of his nine-year marriage to Jen…and the humiliating circumstances under which it ended: Jen’s affair with Judd’s boss, and the fact that he walked in on the two of them, permanently searing the horror of it all on his brain.

Judd’s humor and cynicism reveal much about his pain, just as the occasional dreams that populate his nights show us some of his greatest fears.

Hillary is a hilarious character, openly displaying her physical assets while issuing proclamations that are reminiscent of her best-selling book about parenting, a tome that still embarrasses her children and reminds them of the teasing they suffered years before.

I liked that she was open and seemingly unafraid, and that each of her children have inherited some of that candor from her, even though it often comes across as sarcasm and cruel banter. Then again, sometimes they cling to secrets and hide their true feelings, like any family. Does this make them dysfunctional? Why do they all cringe when their mother expresses herself? Below the surface lies their inability to truly connect with one another, and for a family with supposed openness, why are they such poor communicators when it comes down to it?

While grieving their father, Judd is also learning new information that will complicate his divorce from Jen and make moving on a challenge. Paul and his wife are dealing with issues of infertility, while Wendy’s husband is a consummate workaholic who ignores her most of the time. Phillip is still reveling in his role as the “baby,” but at some point, he must grow up. How will each of them find a way to accept their loss, while dealing with how much their own families are in a state of disarray?

A wonderful foray into one family, This Is Where I Leave You: A Novel shows all of its flaws and foibles, a reminder that even at its worst, family can offer our best chance at a feeling of belonging. 5.0 stars.